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Attorney for jailed Texas writer asks appeals court to grant bond

By The Associated Press

11.06.01

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HOUSTON — The attorney for a novice crime writer jailed for refusing to surrender her interviews for a book about a Houston society murder asked an appeals court yesterday to release her on no more than $5,000 bond.

Vanessa Leggett, 33, has been jailed since July 20 when a judge found her in contempt of court for refusing to turn over her notes and interviews related to the 1997 shooting death of Doris Angleton.

Leggett claimed First Amendment press protections in refusing to turn over the interviews.

"Neither the prosecutor nor the court anticipated the lengthy incarceration of Ms. Leggett while her appeal was pending," attorney Mike DeGeurin wrote in the motion filed yesterday with the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

"Now that Ms. Leggett's appeal is no longer expedited, she should be released on bond while her case is properly litigated in the appellate courts," the attorney wrote. "Surely the Government has made its point that it can incarcerate for months journalists who resist global, nonspecific discovery that require disclosure of confidential sources through a grand jury subpoena without demonstration of a need for the information."

In August, a three-member panel from the appeals court upheld the district court's contempt ruling and decision to jail Leggett without bond. The panel said the 5th Circuit takes a narrow view of the journalist's privilege in criminal cases, particularly in grand jury proceedings.

Leggett's attorney has requested that the full court hear his client's appeal. The court has not ruled on DeGeurin's request.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Clark said he has opposed the request for bond.

Leggett could be held for up to 18 months or for length of time the grand jury investigating millionaire former bookie Robert Angleton remains in place. Federal investigators began looking into Angleton after a state court acquitted him in 1998 of hiring his brother to murder his wife. The federal grand jury's term, which was to expire Oct. 12, has been extended through January.

"The government has admitted that their subpoena is merely a 'fishing expedition,’” DeGeurin wrote in the bond motion. "Yet their speculative search for information has resulted in Ms. Leggett being held in custody more than twice as long as any other journalist in United States history."

The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to comment on the case because it remains under investigation.

Prosecutors contend Leggett is not a journalist and therefore does not fall under the First Amendment's press protections.

Update

Jailed writer's attorney to seek Supreme Court review of case
Full 5th Circuit has refused to re-examine three-judge panel's decision upholding contempt ruling against Vanessa Leggett.  11.16.01

Previous

Texas writer spends 100 days — and counting — in jail
Vanessa Leggett says she misses simple things in life, fears government might pursue criminal contempt charges.  10.31.01

Related

The making of a First Amendment martyr
Ombudsman Journalist Vanessa Leggett sits in jail because she won’t become an investigative pawn of government.  08.22.01

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